It’s dawn and as the first shards of light cut up from the lush green mountains around me, a lion’s roar announces that it’s morning.
I’m not on safari nor near a zoo. I’m at Pennsylvania’s Nemacolin, (nemacolin.com), the poshest resort you’ve probably never heard of.
But like that lion’s morning roar (a rescue by the resort’s owner), Nemacolin is making itself known.
Tucked into Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains – about a 90 minute drive from the Pittsburgh Airport – Nemacolin came about on something of a whim: Lumber magnate Joseph Hardy (84 Lumber Company), purchased a hunting lodge on the property for his daughter Maggie when she was 21, mostly because she loved the outdoors.
But Maggie Hardy, who still oversees the resort’s operation along with her son PJ Magerko Liquorice, found her calling on those grounds and built over the years an expansive, welcoming resort.
It’s moneyed roots are evident: statues rise out of water and peer down from rooftops, museums display historic planes and cars, among other treasures. Hallways and great rooms are lined with art – you glance up from your evening cocktail and see a Botero.
There’s camp too: Zoltar from the movie “Big” greets you in one hallway, and there are all kinds of other surprises as well.
There’s lots to do: Two Pete Dye championship golf courses, mini golf, pools and more pools, a golf academy, a sporting clay range, enormous spa, a fishing set up, off-road driving programs, restaurants and just about every type of lodging (from basic comfort condos all the way up to butler serviced Chateau rooms). You can get gourmet ice cream in a classic shop or spend some time reflecting at a piece of the Berlin Wall. In other words, if you want it, they’ve probably got it.
Their tagline is “Real Life Magic,” and it shows. Nemacolin is eclectic, amped with elegance. And it holds 24 Forbes stars for its hotels, restaurants and spa.
Now, with a half a billion dollar upgrade in motion, it’s not going to be that top spot you’ve never heard of much longer.
While I was there mostly for the golf, I love a trip that weaves in several experiences. I was wowed by the food, from the thick, perfect steaks at Rockwell’s Bistro to the amazing breakfast sandwich I grabbed at Patisserie, to the pasta I made with my own hands at an on-site cooking class.
The resort is sprawling: all that fun is laid out over 2,200 acres. But their shuttle service means you don’t need a car. When, while on my way to the spa, I mentioned I’d yet to visit the on-site car museum, my driver said “I can drop you off any time and pick you up any time. If it’s not open, I’ll open it!” That’s service.
There are family pools and adult-only pools, and a huge one – open year round –where you can float and watch a movie, football game, the World Series or whatever big thing is going on at the time.
And while I was there in warm weather, there’s a small ski area poolside, a perfect spot to learn the sport or grab a few runs.
I found my favorite spots at Nemacolin. On the 16th tee, high above the course, stands the statue of Chief Nemacolin, namesake of the resort and friend to George Washington. Outside the grand entrance to the Chateau stands a bronze statue called “Awakening to Freedom.” It depicts a woman, arms wide open, ready to take all of it in – every notion, moment, taste and sight.
That’s a great thing about Nemacolin: There’s always more to savor.
A fiddler on the roof statue adds a touch of whimsy to the Nemacolin setting. (Photo Moira McCarthy)
There are family pools and adult-only pools, fun and creative to boot. (Photo Moira McCarthy)